The word enrichment means to enhance and make fuller. It has become a very popular word among bird owners. It’s a wonderful thing that humans are considering ways to improve their parrots lives. I usually hear the word enrichment used in connection with toys and foraging opportunities. These are huge ways to better a parrots life, but there are SO many other applications.
Enrichment means maintaining or improving health through diet and exercise. When our finicky eaters turn their beaks up at the new food you have introduced, do we give up and say: “Well, he just doesn’t like kale”, or do we find new ways of preparing it to spark an interest? Have you tried winding it into the cage bars, weaving it into their hanging toys, or mincing it and adding it to mashed banana? Are we really looking at and managing their diets to include the nutritional balance they need? For the bird that is content with lounging on his perch all day, you will have to point out to him that this is not the life. If they don’t feel well, or are fat and lazy, they are not enjoying their lives.
Enrichment means opportunities to learn. Birds love to learn. It speaks to their very nature. They explore every inch of their cage looking for fun, new developments. They try to explore every inch of your house. Training with your parrot makes them think and reevaluate decisions and strategies, and the experience stays with them long after the session has ended.
Enrichment means proper socialization. Your parrot should be taught to enjoy all people, not just you. A parrot that will only tolerate handling by one person is in for trouble. At some point in your life, you will have to be away from him, whether it be for illness, vacation or business travel. He will be miserable and resentful when left in the company of someone he doesn’t like or know. It’s unfair to let that happen, no matter how nice his preference for you might secretly feel.
And yes, enrichment means lots of toys and foragers. Parrots love a good challenge. Work and play are the same thing to them. The harder they have to work for something, the more they seem to enjoy it. Often, though, they have to be shown that there is fun to be had. You can’t simply put a forager into the cage that has a bolt and a wingnut and expect them to know what to do with it. Show them how to maneuver the nut off the bolt, to lift the cap and see that there’s a treat waiting for them when they accomplish that. They will learn how to do it just by watching you. Let them watch you play with their toys and see what the possibilities are.
Enrichment means you. Your love, your time and your attention to detail is the most important enrichment you can offer.
Author Patty Jourgensen specializes in avian health, behavior and nutrition and has been working with and caring for rescue birds since 1987.